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updated: 2/13/2016 5:25 AM

Meet lifelong tap dancer teaching at age 80

Fox Valley teacher can't imagine life without music

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  • Video: Lifelong dancer teaches tap

  • LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville and her advanced tap class from the Rakow Center in Carpentersville perform the finale of their signature dance for "Big Girls Don't Cry."

      LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville and her advanced tap class from the Rakow Center in Carpentersville perform the finale of their signature dance for "Big Girls Don't Cry."
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville teaches a beginning tap dancing class for seniors at the Dundee Township Park District. She has been teaching since 2001.

      LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville teaches a beginning tap dancing class for seniors at the Dundee Township Park District. She has been teaching since 2001.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville (front row, third from left) and her students from the advanced tap dance class she teaches at the Rakow Center in Carpentersville. This photo dates from 2014. She teaches tap dancing to seniors twice a week in Carpentersville and Elgin.

    LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville (front row, third from left) and her students from the advanced tap dance class she teaches at the Rakow Center in Carpentersville. This photo dates from 2014. She teaches tap dancing to seniors twice a week in Carpentersville and Elgin.
    Courtesy of LaVergne Tharge

  • LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville teaches tap dancing to seniors twice a week in Carpentersville and Elgin.

      LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville teaches tap dancing to seniors twice a week in Carpentersville and Elgin.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • LaVergne Tharge's late husband, Lenny Tharge, from a newspaper photo with Poncho the chimpanzee. Lenny was one of the chimpanzee trainers with the Shrine Circus, which is where the couple met.

    LaVergne Tharge's late husband, Lenny Tharge, from a newspaper photo with Poncho the chimpanzee. Lenny was one of the chimpanzee trainers with the Shrine Circus, which is where the couple met.
    Courtesy of LaVergne Tharge

 
 

It's a Tuesday morning in the dance studio. The songs "Shake Your Booty," "Twist and Shout" and "Boot Scootin' Boogie" play on rotation, complemented by the synced sounds of metallic tapping on a wooden floor.

Reflected in the multiple-mirrored walls is a group of senior citizens tap dancing, led by instructor LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville. An avid music lover and dancer all her life, Tharge has been teaching seniors how to tap dance since 2001.

"I can't imagine the world without music," Tharge said. "And when I'm here, it makes me forget all my troubles. And we just have fun."

Tharge donned tap shoes for the first time when she was 4 years old and continued her dance education -- which included ballet, acrobatics and Spanish dancing with castanets -- through her childhood and teen years.

At age 18 -- and against her parents wishes -- Tharge embarked on a journey across the country on a one-year contract to perform as one of the Spanglettes dancers with the Shrine Circus. The Spanglettes were a troupe of eight young women dancers who performed to introduce each circus act. The then one-ring circus traveled nationwide, performing two shows a day.

She smiles as she reflects and shares her memories of the time. She recalls a ballet dance with big ostrich feather fans to introduce the high wire act. To introduce the contortionist she remembers wearing a top hat, coat with tails, black shorts and cane.

After a few years of dancing professionally, Tharge stepped away from the limelight to get married and raise five children in Carpentersville. During that time, she kept her dancing skills polished and performed for events periodically in the community.

"Everybody needs a hobby, besides just being housewife and mother," she said. "You need to be able to do something different. And you also need to get out of the house, especially after the kids are gone."

A 1953 photo of LaVergne Tharge at age 18 before a dance recital. A dancer since age 4, Tharge performed as a dancer for the Shrine Circus for a year in 1954. The Carpentersville resident, now 80, teaches tap dancing to seniors twice a week in Carpentersville and Elgin.
A 1953 photo of LaVergne Tharge at age 18 before a dance recital. A dancer since age 4, Tharge performed as a dancer for the Shrine Circus for a year in 1954. The Carpentersville resident, now 80, teaches tap dancing to seniors twice a week in Carpentersville and Elgin. - Courtesy of LaVergne Tharge

She later became involved with the Dundee Township Park District, helping with children's dance classes.

In 2001, she heard about senior tap dancing classes in Florida and proposed the idea to the park district board. She got the green light, had 20 students in her first class, and the program has been going strong ever since.

"When we started, we had a big turnout," she said. "I thought maybe three people would come, but we had 20 people. And they were very enthusiastic and they enjoyed it."

As time progressed, the original class got so advanced they added a beginners class for newcomers.

So why does she teach tap in particular?

"I think tap is the easiest to do. I really do. There are so many steps you can start with that are simple steps. Just 'point, together, point, together, and so forth."

Over the years, she has choreographed about 35 dances to songs from yesteryear through modern times. The groups learn two to three different dances a year and are currently working on different routines for performances in March and May.

LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville leads the tap dancing group at the Greater Elgin Senior Center through its routine for an upcoming performance. The cost is only $2 a class in Elgin and $4 a class in Carpentersville, with the first class being free so people can try it out.
  LaVergne Tharge, 80, of Carpentersville leads the tap dancing group at the Greater Elgin Senior Center through its routine for an upcoming performance. The cost is only $2 a class in Elgin and $4 a class in Carpentersville, with the first class being free so people can try it out. - Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

"I always loved tap. And I think it's coming back," she said while nodding her head up and down. "It's very healthy for you to do. And if you start doing it, I think you'll not do it for the exercise, I think you'll do it because you like it," she said with a nod of her head and a big smile.

Interested? Beginner and advanced classes are held Tuesday mornings at the Dundee Township Park District's Rakow Center, at a fee of $4 per class. One class is offered at the Greater Elgin Senior Center on Thursday mornings for $2 per class. First classes are free for participants try it out to see if they like it.

To register in Carpentersville, visit dtpd.org. For Elgin, call the Greater Elgin Senior Center at (847) 741-0512.

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